Friday, December 23, 2022

Merry Christmas: Here's wishing you peace, love and trains

Yesterday morning (Dec. 22), I spent a few hours trackside in Bedell, near Kemptville, as my wife was undergoing minor surgery at the area hospital (she's fine!). The quiet hours spent in the chilly December air had me feeling philosophical. The conclusion I came to is, I am a lucky man. I have a wonderful wife and two awesome daughters. I live in a safe, beautiful city. I do not fear for my life at the hands of an aggressive tyrannical regime. I live a comfortable life with a safe, secure job. I am free to express my opinions, live my beliefs, and pursue my passions. 

I have not always thought this way. In fact, I laugh at my younger self, who was often far too absorbed with all the challenges in my life. Too much time spent focusing on what was missing rather than being thankful for the abundance that was all around.

This photo is a great example of what I was pondering. Yes, there were no trains that went by in my hours trackside. Yes, for a train-starved Ottawa railfan, that is a major disappointment. But then, as I watched the sun slowly climb through the thicket of brush across the tracks, it began to illuminate this old telegraph pole, which still stands trackside, albeit in the scrub. The lighting and the position of the sun hit just perfectly and I grabbed a shot of the scene, not wanting to miss this cool sight.

This is all I got from a morning spent trackside. There was no parked rolling stock, no ties and little else to photograph. But this one shot made me smile. Again, it's an example of being grateful. I was given one brief moment of sun that illuminated a piece of railway history before my eyes. A little bit of magic.

This year has been a pretty good year for me. My family has maintained its health and we were able to do a lot more than we have done in the previous two years. I was able to indulge my railway hobby a fair bit. The end results were not what I expected. Instead of a bunch of photos of mainline freights and other things on my railway wish list, I manged to get a lot of unorthodox shots or quirky stuff this year. In years past, I would have thought of that as a failure. This year, I take it as an unexpected gift.

My point is, I am lucky, no matter what life throws at me. Gratitude has made railfanning much more fun. That, in turn, has made this blog much more diverse in its content and commentary.

So this Christmas, I simply want to thank everyone who has been a rail friend to me this year and in years past. The internet can often be a place of ugliness and bile. That was one of my fears when I began blogging. I will never claim to be the most knowledgeable railfan out there and I leave myself open to being corrected as much as I can. 

But everyone I have come across on this blog has been unceasingly decent to me. For that, I thank you.

So I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I will be spending it with my family, going to church, reading a railway book (I've asked for one) and likely playing with whatever I bought my girls for gifts (I forget! old age!). Possibly, there will be an attempt at winter railfanning.

Here's wishing you peace in a sometimes troubled world, the love of everyone around you, and happy times spent indulging your fascination with trains.

I'll see you in 2023.

Michael Hammond

hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Pop-up Post: Here come the . . . new O-Trains?

This year, I have been pacing this blog so that a post is shared every other week, but the problem with that pace is that it doesn't leave much room for me to share items that a newsworthy. So I am speeding up the pace of the blog a little bit for the time being, as there is a lot to share and the backlog of posts is getting to the point where some information is becoming outdated by the time some things are ready for publication.

This post is a short one, but it does come with an interesting story. Long story short, my two children were down with the flu last week and our supply of childen's medication was quite low. As we needed to get them through about 5-7 days of fever maintenance, I made the decision to go down to Ogdensburg, New York to get some children's medication there. Alas, there was very little available, since many Canadians near the border are doing the same thing as me. I did manage to get some, but it was a tough pill to swallow, as the border is about an hour's drive from Ottawa. Hardly worth the gas, although a full tank only cost $30 in the U.S. Glass half full.

As I was driving south on Highway 416, I noticed a large flatbed truck making its way north toward Ottawa with a large plastic-wrapped railcar in tow. As I was driving in the opposite direction, I could only steel a quick glance and file the information away.

As I approached the bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Prescott, I noticed another flatbed truck with a similar railcar in tow, which was wrapped in plastic. As my car was stopped and it was safe to take a photo, I managed to get a quick shot of the mysterious rail cargo.

I was a little confused at first, since the trucks on this piece of rail equipment struck me as something that you'd see in a heavy rail vehicle, and not the typical trucks of a light rail car or power unit. So, to find something by way of comparison, I took a look at a shot I took from the end of Albion Road of a new O-Train sitting in Walkley Yard this past August. It's a Citadis Spirit trainset, which will be the train in use when the second phase of the O-Train Confederation Line is ready for use, supposedly next year between Corkstown Road in the west end and Trim Road in the east. The shot below doesn't show you the trucks, so I couldn't use that as a comparison but I thought the curvature of the end of the unit was similar to what I saw in the plastic-wrapped car. The reason I'm doubtful though, is that the O-Train below has a distinct hump on the end of the roof and the car under wraps does not. 

Also, as the O-Trains are designed to be accessible with seamless walk-on, walk-off capabilities, I'm not sure this piece of equipment fits the bill, although I realize that the platforms would rise above these trucks.

Since some have mentioned that Ottawa has had most of its light rail equipment delivered by truck, I figured it could be a piece of light rail equipment other than an end unit. But I'm not sure. Possibly a new piece of diesel equipment for the Trillium Line expansion? A piece of unrelated equipment destined for testing at the NRC facility near the airport? Can anyone else shed light on this mystery?

In this press release from Alstom, the company that makes the O-Train, it mentions that the trains are being "assembled" in Belfast Yard, where the current O-Train fleet is maintained. So, this further clouds the issue. In what state do the O-Trains arrive in Ottawa? Is this piece of rail equipment something else that is perhaps bound for the NRC facility for testing?

Can you help solve this mystery? There were two of these heading to Ottawa on December 13.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Guest Photos: Freight Train meets Via on the Alexandria Sub

A good friend of the blog, Keith Boardman, has really been my eyes and ears in the east end of Ottawa. To be honest, those who are looking to capture some rare CN freight trains in Ottawa are much better off focusing on the Alexandria Subdivision rather than the weekly run up to Arnprior. Sadly, since I work from home and do not have the time to go out into the east end much, I don't have many photographs of anything beyond Belfast Road. That's where Keith has come in over the years with news, photos and tips from the east end. 

Keith has come through in a big way many times. He recently shared an interesting collection of photographs from the east end when a CN freight train returning from Coteau met a Via corridor train on the Alexandria Subdivision.

This is my favourite shot, below, of CN's freight returning from picking up cars at Coteau. It is waiting on the siding for a Via Rail passenger train. As the Alexandria Sub is Via's trackage, this is one of the few places in Canada where passenger trains get the priority of movement. You can see the signal lights, the plows up sign to the left and the ditch lights of the CN geep. Lots of cool elements in this picture, not counting the snow and the outline of the rails amid the white.

And here's the reason the freight was waiting in the hole. A speeding Via Rail corridor train with a F40PH-2 in the lead is heading east and kicking up some snow as its speeds past.

After the corridor train is past, the freight gets the all-clear signal. The next shot Keith took that I really like was this shot, below, which gives you a rare glimpse of a freight train in the Ottawa area that has more than three tank cars, like the weekly Arnprior Turn. It's a going away shot, but the different colours of the box cars are the stars of this image, in my opinion. The NS boxcar is almost completely covered in graffiti. You can also see a TTX Railbox car and a mysterious white boxcar, which does not appear to have any clear markings. Also not sure about the light blue boxcar in the left of the shot

Keith also sent me pictures of another meet he caught. I shared them earlier this year but thought I'd share them again with the fulls story from Keith. Here is what he told me about this meet:

From Keith's Dec. 2021 email:

I was passing through Carlsbad Springs at 8:28 this morning and the signals came on as I was about to cross Piperville Road. I know there's a westbound Via that goes through around 8:05 give or take, but didn't think it would be running that late. A Railterm truck was parked on the side near the crossing and a worker was out of it, so I assumed he was testing the crossing equipment. 

It seemed he wasn't, so I looked down the track towards the siding,and I could see a light, with ditch lights coming through the fog. Turned out it was the blue and white leased unit (now a CN unit), with a second power unit in tow. I couldn't get a very good pic as the Railterm truck was immediately to the left of my view of the approaching consist. 

I like Keith's spirit. Despite the visual obstruction with the Railterm crew trackside, he managed a few shots of the Coteau train. Here's one more shot he was able to improvise.

I have some other shots Keith took, including a few he captured of the Arnprior Turn in the west end. Keith clearly gets out more than I do. 

I will leave these other images for future posts, which I intend to share in the coming weeks. I might increase my frequency of posts to every 10 days, as I have a massive backlog of topics to cover, not to mention a year-end post with some highlights. 

Stay tuned for two very hard-won shots of some antique freight cars I saw in Ogdensburg, New York. Also, I have shots from Kingston from Novemeber, which I intend to break into two posts. I have two posts worth of shots from Waterloo, Ontario, from a summer trip I took there. I also have a few shots from a summer trip to Gananoque, Ontario. It's been a relatively fruitful year for this blog, although my biweekly pace has helped me considerably. 

My thanks to Keith for these shots and the ones I have yet to share. Stay tuned for more from Keith.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Two trains, two very different images, one day

Two trains in one day in Ottawa? It’s not as tough as you might think, as this city continues to be a busy hub in Via Rail’s Windsor-Quebec City corridor. But in early October, I managed to catch two trains in one day and one of them was CN’s weekly west end freight train, the Arnprior Turn, as they call it. It took a little bit of luck, as it usually does.

I was in Kanata checking out a federal government office building, where I am now working once a week, as part of the government’s mandate that all public servants return to the office. I won’t get into the absurdity that I can telework from a generic government office and fulfill my back-to-work commitment, but I can’t telework from home on that day. Either way, I don’t have to return to my employer’s actual main office in Hull.

Anyway, as I was returning home after checking out the office building, I saw the telltale light from an old geep winding its way slowly down the Renfrew Spur. At the moment, I was on Carling Avenue, which follows the tracks for a short distance east of Kanata. I was able to turn off Carling and found my way to Bayfield Avenue, a tiny residential lane that has an unprotected crossing with the tracks, with only a set of crossbucks and a stop sign.

I have to say that I was excited to get a shot on this seldom used street. It affords you a chance to get a shot of trains from an interesting angle up close. I started by taking a shot of the signage. Notice how the Renfrew Spur is not listed as a CN property. It is listed as the Renfrew Subdivision, which is a legacy of its former status. It’s technically a spur now. The official name of this rail line is the Arnprior-Ottawa Railway, which is owned by Nylene Canada, its only customer in Arnprior. The rails are owned by the company while the land is owned by the city, which inherited ownership from the former Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton.

The crossing gives you the opportunity to get a shot down the tracks, since Bayfield has almost no local traffic except for people from the handful of households on the street. After framing the train alongside the signs. I tried one shot without the signs. Given the low speed limit on this line, you have lots of time to set up these shots before moving back to safety when the train gets back.

This is not the type of shot I take all the much anymore. I don’t really like close wedge shots as much as I once did. However, I was happy with this shot because the angle of the tracks gave me this dramatic shot. You can even see old GP9 4140 behind the lead unit, CN GP38-2 4700. I was surprised to see the old geep in the consist. It’s been years since I saw one of these old geeps in Ottawa. You can check outmy tribute to the GP9 in this post.


I was also happy to catch a lumber car in the consist. This is the first time I have seen one of these cars on the weekly west end train.

Later in the day, I was waiting for my daughters to finish their weekly dance class in the Colonnade Road area, close to the Federal Junction where the Beachburg and Smiths Falls subdivisions meet. Since I am there at the same time each week, I was able to see Via Rail Train 59, westbound for Toronto at the same time. My first attempt to get this train was atop the Hunt Club Road overpass, which I snapped on Sept. 28.


But on the same day I was able to catch CN 589, I decided to try catching Via Rail Train from beneath the overpass. There was a spot near the fence, where I stood on a small cement block to get the shot. I liked this shot the best of the train coming out from beneath the overpass.

As the daylight was getting shorter, I figured there wouldn't be many more chances to capture this train with decent lighting, but I managed to squeeze in a few more shots in subsequent weeks. I am not in the habit of taking shots of Via Rail trains at Fallowfield Station or the Central Station, since I have so many shots from both places. I am really trying to find new places with different photographic elements, so this area is a new challenge for me. I like that this train is using the old silver streamlined cars. It makes up for the P42 in front, as this engine my least favourite locomotive to shoot.

All in all, it was a fun day trackside. Given that it happened in Ottawa, that makes it all the more special. You always feel like to earn everything you get in this city.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, Bedell is an interesting spot on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Sub. It's an area that has rich history. Now, as much of its old infrastructure has been removed, it's also a testament to how railways have evolved. Small towns are rarely much more than a passing landmark to freight trains these days and Bedell is no exception. There are no diamonds here, the interlocking is long gone, the station is only visible in old photos and much of the former Prescott Sub connection has been removed.

So what is there to see in Bedell these days? Well, in the last few years at least, there was a fair amount to see, to be honest. The Canadian Pacific has been very busy reshaping the Winchester Sub, which connects Montreal with Smiths Falls. The double tracks have been slowly merged into a single track governed by modern signalization. Bedell retains some extra trackage, as the railway still makes use of passing sidings, but most of the old remnants of the Bedell rail yard have disappeared. 

The image above is a shot I took in February last year as maintenance of way crews continued their work in the area. Much of the consist was parked on the South Prescott Spur. The caboose, which had the modern CPR letting on it, seemed to be the crew breakroom, where they could escape to a warm place and get out of the howling winter winds. You can see the smoke rising the smokestack, indicating that there is something cooking or running inside the old car. The earliest photo of this caboose I could find was from 2004, meaning it's been assigned to engineering services for nearly two decades.

This shot above shows you a hint of the gondolas on the South Prescott Spur. The entire consist was being marshalled around by a flatbed truck equipped with flanged wheels for use on the rails. I was disappointed to see this. It would have been cool to see one of CP's old MoW locomotives on point, possibly with some old multimarks on the long hood, but it was not to be.

What's also striking about this image is the fact that so many old ties were piled up in the area. In the several times I have been to Bedell in 2020 and 2021, the amount of rail ties was pretty impressive. It seemed like this was the spot where many of the old ties were dumped. The shot below was taken in July 2020. This pile was just the tip of the iceberg.

I haven't been to Bedell in more than a year to see what it's like these days, but seeing those cabooses when I did was incredibly gratifying, especially for someone who is old enough to remember when trains still had cabooses. I remember the debate when railways unions pressed their cases about the issue. I still have a pin somewhere that says "Trains are safer with a caboose." It was given to me by a Teamsters union representative that was pleading its case at a Sarnia mall in the 1980s.

When you drive through Kemptville these days, you wouldn't know you were in a railway town. The last remnants of the old Prescott Sub were lifted shortly after I took this photo in 2014. In fact, you won't find that old industrial building anymore either. It's all been razed. Nothing but a flat expanse of development land for sale. 

Despite the removal of much of the infrastructure at Bedell, it still remains one of my favourite spots to sit trackside. Go there in the summer and listen to the sound of the wind swishing through the trees. It's a very peaceful spot. Catching a train there is tough, given the decreased frequency of traffic, but the newly installed modern signals will give you some clues. You can see these signals safely from the Bedell Road crossing, which might be able to let you know if you will be waiting an entire afternoon or whether you might be in luck. 

You see? Progess isn't so bad.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part I

This post was supposed to be the first stop on my blog's reunion tour, as I called it when I restarted things in August 2021. Since then, I have accumulated much more material, which has pushed back this post for months and now more than a year. It's not a bad problem to have.

Bedell, Ontario, a spot along the Canadian Pacific Railway's Winchester Subdivision. Bedell once housed a station and an active rail yard. Over the course of my extended hiatus from blogging, I did manage to visit this spot a few times. Truthfully, I wouldn't have been able to visit this spot were it not for the fact that I had surgery on my knee at the Kemptville District Hospital and subsequent follow-ups with my surgeon a few times. That meant a few free passes to railfan at a time when I would usually not be able to get away from Ottawa.

Those who know their history know that Bedell once boasted a station, a tower, an interlocking crossing between the Canadian Pacific and the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway and later a diamond that connected the CP Winchester Sub to the railway's Prescott Sub. Read about the history of Bedell's rail operations here.

The Prescott Sub lasted until the late 1990s, when it was finally deactivated and the rail removed south of Ottawa. The rail in Ottawa was spared, some of which became part of the O-Train Trillium Line while the remainder was used by Ottawa Central and then CN in its local operations. A small portion of the Prescott Sub still ventured into Kemptville as the North Prescott Spur. That spur was lifted several years ago. The South Prescott Spur is still hanging on, as a turnout for eastbound locals on the Winchester Sub. That spur serves CP customers in Oxford Station.

So, what's left in Bedell these days? Not much but memories and a few ghosts no doubt. I've been here a number of times and detailed the ongoing process of rails being lifted and area being cleared of anything resembling a rail yard. 

This shot above was the scene on November 30, 2020 when I was in Kemptville for an appointment, which led me to Bedell, of course. Throughout 2020, CP maintenance of way crews were quite active in Bedell as the Winchester Sub was single tracked in many places, due to modern signalization improvements that do not require two tracks. For my purposes, I was interested to see the two old yard tracks removed on the north side of the area (left on the photo). One of the tracks was once clearly labelled as a bad order track. You could see the sign from the side of Bedell Road. The south track with gondolas marked the first time I have ever seen cars parked in this area.

The North Prescott Spur was being used that day as a staging ground for this maintenance of way consist, including a genuine caboose. I was quite surprised to see the last vestiges of the CP multimark on this car. The white scheme with no identifying marks or numbers was quite odd, although it might have been a case of a car being repainted after being heavily marked by graffiti. 

Here's a closer look at the caboose. You can see from the ends that its original yellow paint scheme is clearly visible. As if a caboose on a main line wasn't odd enough, this one had two paint schemes. I was disappointed that I didn't see any freight trains pass by, but this was a great consolation prize, to be sure. 

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little sad for the ghosts of Bedell. At one point, this was a real community gathering spot, where families embarked on long journeys or reunited. It once saw upwards up 30 trains a day. By most counts, it now sees anywhere from five to seven, based on what I hear from various railfans. Occasionally, there will be a seasonal extra, such as a semi-regular ethanol unit train, but the frequency is not really conducive to regular railfanning.

This Soo Line gondola has definitely seen better days.
Progress or is this the end of an era? Depends on your perspective.
Despite the fact that very little is left in Bedell from the area's heyday, it's important to understand today's reality. Canadian Pacific is definitely a railway in growth mode, even if it isn't evident in this area. The railway's purchase of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway (formerly Montreal Maine & Atlantic) gave CP its transcontinental connection to the East Coast once again. The railway has been promoting its new eastern terminus as a competitive advantage for shippers (read: intermodal and containers). The railway also clearly sought to establish a link to Mexico with its prolonged struggled to acquire Kansas City Southern.
So what does this have to do with Bedell? Well, if the minds running CP have their way, the railway is clearly going to be busier as a true transcontinental transportation concern once again. That could mean a few more trains passing through Bedell. They might not stop there anymore, but the ghosts would likely notice the increase and smile.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Guest Post: More GP9 memories from across Canada

I seemed to have hit a sweet spot in my previous post about the history of the venerable GP9 locomotive. As I mentioned in that post, this old relic is fast disappearing from most major railways, given its age. The last GP9s produced in Canada came off the line at the old GM Diesel in London, Ont. in 1963. CN and CP have used them for decades, although there are none left on CP and only a few dozen left on CN rails.

I shared a few photos of my meets with these engines over the years, including on the CP, CN and even the Goderich Exeter Railway. After I published that post, I received interesting feedback from a few fellow bloggers in appreciation of these geeps.

It occurred to me that perhaps my generation of railfan will wax poetic over these first-generation diesels the way previous generations bemoan the loss the steam locomotives after the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have to admit I don’t understand the fascination with steam locomotives at all, given my age and my lack of experience with them trackside. However, given my fond memories of old GP9s and even SW1200s, maybe I’m not all that different from steam fans after all.

One of those who seemed enthused about my GP9 retrospective is Steve Boyko, author, poet and prominent rail blogger extraordinaire. Most people who come to this blog will know Steve from his long-running railway and photography blog, It was one blog that directly influenced my decision to start The Beachburg Sub. Steve was kind enough to share a few of his own shots of GP9s from his time trackside, which I am pleased to share below.

I’ll start with a shot Steve took in Winnipeg, where he lives. The descriptions below the photos are Steve’s, not mine. Read on:

CP operated many GP7s and GP9s in Winnipeg in the first decade of the 21st century, in local switcher service and local yard service. They frequently operated in pairs, like these two about to cross Plinguet Street, south of Whittier Junction.

An overhead view of CP 1540 in yard service, October 29, 2011.

Many CP switchers met their end here in late 2009. A scrapper used a siding in Fort Garry to scrap quite a few locomotives over a few months. I documented many from a distance, including this massacre of four CP GP9s – 1558 and 1556, bracketing two SOO GP9s, 4202 and 4204.

You might wonder why a CN GP9 is at the famous McAdam, New Brunswick train station – a former bastion of CP power. This line has been owned by shortline NB Southern Railway for quite a while, and they leased a few CN GP9s for local switching in Saint John. Occasionally, one would be put on the Saint John-Brownville Junction freight for extra power. However, they are not permitted to cross into the U.S., so they would be dropped in McAdam. When I visited McAdam on July 19, 2008, 7038 was being used to switch the yard.

This is a very pedestrian shot of CN 7059 passing the Staples store near Island Yard in Saint John, coming back from perhaps switching the Irving refinery. I include it because I have one of the number boards that used to grace this locomotive, which has since donned Cando colours and a new number.

CN often used a pairing of GP9s and a slug for local switching in the Winnipeg area. Here are two pairings, with 7213 at Transcona (with modern paint scheme) above and 7254 in Winnipeg below.

Here's an oddity below. Read Steve's caption of this scene below the image.

I’m not sure why this GP9 was on top of the hump in Symington Yard in Winnipeg. Typically, hump locomotives were GP38-2 locomotives at this time, but for whatever reason, 7258 and slug 268 were up high.

For a long time, CP 8251 was one of the very few active locomotives around Winnipeg still bearing a multimark. Here a rainbow graces the scene after a summer storm. CP 8251 was retired in 2013 but has been leased to Viterra to serve a grain elevator.

My thanks to Steve for sharing these photos. It’s a real treat to feature photographs and information outside my usual haunts here in Ottawa and southern Ontario. In keeping with this post’s theme of GP9 photos, I’d like to share three additional GP9 photos that didn’t make the cut in the previous post. 

The first is an old shot my Dad took at the GEXR yard in Startford in the early 1990s. Note the faded Shakespearan name "Falstaff" on the lead engine, in appreciation of the railway's hometown.

A few years ago, Eric Gagnon, author of the equally acclaimed Trackside Treasure blog and several railway books, shared this photo print with me of GEXR GP9 177 leading a string of old EMD power in switching the salt mine on the Lake Huron habourfront in Goderich. Date unknown, but it appears to be a 1990s shot. 

Finally, I'll add one last shot of my own that I did not manage to squeeze into my original post on these engines. Here's a great shot of GP9 720 and slug 223 leading 4761 in Sarnia Yard in August 2014.

So that just about wraps up my tribute to the venerable GP9. I am also working on a similar post about the equally venerable SW1200 and its family of switchers. Stay tuned for that one a little down the road. My thanks to Steve Boyko, the original Train Geek, for sharing his photos this week and his contribution to the cause on this blog. And thanks to Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure. It's been years since he shared a bunch of prints with me. I finally have the chance to share one of them.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The GP9: A Scrappy Survivor

When I was visiting another blog a few months ago, I was interested in a comment about the fast-fading GP9s still out there in service. It hit me then that I have tonnes of photos of this unit from my years of sitting trackside. It also hit me that I might not be able to see these old beasts much longer. So I decided to create a small tribute to this unsung hero of railroading, which has done yeoman's work for decades without much glory.

The GP9 officially ended production at General Motors Diesel in London, Ontario, in 1963. The engine first sported a 16-cylinder, 1,750 horsepower engine running on four axles, not factoring in the B units and slugs that were produced as well as the CN GP9RM rebuilds. Some of the slugs are still in service in certain CN yards. Various sites online peg sales of the engine at 3,500 units in the United States and nearly 650 in Canada.

GM London's production of this unit actually ended four years later than EMD in the United States. The 2022 Canadian Trackside Guide says CN still has 29 in active service. CP has retired its fleet, with the bodies and chassis of the old locomotives used for its fleet of GP20C-ECOs. What seems strange to me is when I find references to these engines being preserved. It makes me feel old.

Searching through my photos from my teenage years, I found two early 1990s photographs of these geeps in Southwestern Ontario. The first shot is from Canadian Pacific's Windsor Yard, where GP9s were once a common sight. The most prominent GP9 in this shot is CP 1619, with a fast fading action scheme still visible, complete with the multimark at the rear. Beside it you can see CP 8226, in a more recent action red scheme. This newer one lasted a long time, as you can see it in action on the Galt Sub in this photo in 2008. Although these two units look similar, note that they are numbered in different series. Scanning through some sites online, it seems CP had these geeps numbered in the 1500s, 1600s and 8000s. I tried to find a more recent shot of 1619, but was no able to find anything worth a link. You can also see a piece of a lumber car to the left in this shot from 1991. Note CP's unique high number board plates and classification lights above the front windows.

Closer to where I grew up in Sarnia, I did come across GP9 rebuilds a few times in the 1990s, although at that time, CN's stables of SW1200s shared local switching duties with the GP9s. Here's one of my earliest shots of a GP9RM from Sarnia Yard, when you were able to roam the yard more freely.This shot below is of CN 7226 with slug 259 in front. It was an unforgiving day for sun when I took this shot in 1992. No amount of photoshop could fix this. You can see how CN's number boards were not mounted on extra high plates like their CP counterparts. In fact, their number boards were much smaller and oval shaped.

The slugs are very useful in yards like the giant Sarnia Yard, as their traction motors allow the GP9's horsepower to be distributed more widely, which gives the unit more leverage to pull long strings of cars at low speeds. Great for switching duties. There are still a few being used in Sarnia.

This shot was taken at a time when CN had yet to privatize and seemed to operate as a very different railway. It was not uncommon at this time to find 15-20 units all parked and idle near the CN roundhouse. This is not the case today.

Fast forward to the 2000s and you see that these old beasts are still kicking up a fair bit of smoke in Sarnia Yard and in CN's local operations. This shot below is one of my favourites, taken just south of Corunna near the Rokeby Line, as a CN local switched local petrochemical industries in August 2017. You can see three GP9s in this shot, two are able to be identified: 7038 in the lead and 7278 hitched elephant style as the second unit. The third unit, which is clad in the safety stripes, is not identifiable. 

This brings up another interesting point. These units, which have been able to soldier on thanks to CN's rebuild program, can be found in their original mainly black scheme with the wet noodle on the side and the more recent safety stripes scheme. I have even seen one in the CN privatization anniversary scheme, but I have never seen one in the modern scheme.

Here's a GP9 in the CN 15 scheme, celebrating the railway's privatization. This is not a terribly common scheme. I was lucky to run into GP9 7256 a few years ago on a brief stopover at Sarnia Yard in July 2021. It was pulling a long string of hoppers in the yard, with a carbon black from Cabot Carbon first in the consist behind 7052.

I should mention as well that, in the two years I lived in Peterborough in 2003 and 2004, CP's affiliate, the Kawartha Lakes Railway, often used GP9s and even a few SW1200s to service local industries on the line, from Havelock to Peterborough. I wasn't in the habit of photographing trains at this time, so I have no hard proof of these observations other than my memory.

One of the great things about these old beasts is they put on quite a show, if you are a photographer. You might recall a post from several years ago titled Smoke! where I was treated to quite a show in Sarnia Yard in October 2016. Here's my favourite shot from that post, below. The GP9 in the shot is coupled with what looks like a GP38. The real smoke is all from the old man, though.

And speaking of those slugs, here's a more recent shot of a GP9 and slug still working the rails in Sarnia Yard in 2015 near the old roundhouse. Notice the old SW1200s in the background, which are either being repaired for industrial use or possibly scrapped for parts.

Of course, it's not just on mainline railways that this unit survives. The GP9 has long been a staple of short line railways, like the Goderich Exeter Railway. I caught this unit idle in Goderich in August 2014. Note its paint scheme. GEXR was once famous for painting its GP9s in a unique green and taupe scheme, with certain units being named after Shakepearean references. Many of the railway's units were later left in their leasing unit or previous railway schemes.

Surprisingly, even CN's operations up in Ottawa have made use of a GP9 on several occasions. Recently, the railway has made use of multiple GP38s, including some former GATX leased units. But as recently as 2017, the regional operations out to Hawkesbury and Arnprior were being handled by units like 4139, seen here near the Queensway overpass in the Greenbelt in 2017. I find this fascinating, as these units are not usually synonymous with long runs, like the 40-km turn out to Arnprior and the long 80-plus-km haul out to Ivaco in Hawkesbury. That's a lot of distance for a yard and local engine.

So why is this little runt of a locomotive worth discussing, remembering and preserving? Well, for one, it is fast becoming an antique, as the last Canadian units made are already 59 years old, and those are the youngest of the bunch. A quick glance through some sites online will show you that this unit propelled General Motors' EMD into the locomotive production lead, which was not the case before the GP9 was built. This brief article discusses how the market for road switchers was still very much the domain of Alco/MLW's RS series until the GP9 came along.

CN purchased 349 of these units while CP purchased 200. CP's numbers might be a reflection of the large number of MLW RS units it brought before the GP9 began production. Other Canadian buyers included New York Central, which purchased 12 for its Canadian operations in Ontario, Northern Alberta Railways (10), Ontario Northland (60), Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo (3) and the Quebec North Shore & Labrador (54).

When you do see one of the surviving GP9s roaming around, take a shot. With their unique curved cab roofs and chopped noses, they are pieces of living history that are sure to fade quickly in the coming years. I am lucky that I was able to see so many of these engines in my time trackside. That's worth celebrating.